January Open Mic: Featured Reader Lisa Metzger

Only four poems. Imagine that. January’s featured reader and new Just Poet, Lisa Metzger, made it short and bittersweet. Metzger, a writing instructor at RIT, and former Adirondack Wilderness guide, covered a lot of hard territory in a very short time. Her first poem, about time with her grandmother in North Carolina “Grannie’s Grapevine,” held lessons learned as a child. The next poem, about the death of a friend on Whiteface Mountain, delicately blended winter scenery into the weight of the tragedy. Her final poems, “The Knot” about post-divorce, and “Dis-ease,” the need to end a difficult friendship, cut grit hard. All were set up and delivered well; an honest read.

Open mic was exceptional as well. There were so many poets (18) anxious to read, JP host David Yockel had to enforce the “three minute” rule. And Ken Kelbaugh owner of Before Your Quiet Eyes bookstore needed to set up another row or two of seats. Good stuff poured forth. Last night’s poets who read were: Laura Klinkon, Robert McDonough, Maril Nowak, Jere Fletcher, Frank Judge, Jim Jordan, Bill Pruitt, David Delaney, Kevin Minh, Gracen Lynch, Roy Bent, David Purdy, Jennifer Maloney, Reily Hirst, David Michael Nixon, Bart White, Charles “CB” Banks, and David Yockel.

Many outstanding poems; just a note on a few; Jere Fletcher’s “Honor Them” a poignant piece on the sacrifice of war; Bill Pruitt’s “The Names of Algae” an assessment of our world and need for action by those who have the means to act; Gracen Lynch’s original piece about corners “eight billion corners in this round world,” Reily Hirst’s “I Will Never be the Same,“ a smart rock-and-river metaphor about love. And CB’s “Murder of Crows,” about justice, cleverly cloaked in feather. 

A good night for poetry and good night for Just Poets.


Holiday Reader's Theater

Just Poets’ First “Annual” Readers Theater was as crisp as a Dickens Duck.  Staged in the Victorian ambiance of the Rochester Academy of Medicine, ornate mahogany, lovely fireplace, classic wall-to-ceiling bookcases, every seat held laughter, silence, and riveting attention to the performers (Kitty Jospé, Almeta Whitis, Craig Schantz, Bart White, Roy Bent,  R. Emmett Michie, and this event’s creator/ producer/director: Celeste Schantz. Poetry, stories, song, it had it all.

“Terrific. So glad we came,” said Jim Dangler. Dangler’s sentiment was echoed throughout the beautiful hall where these performers brought perhaps a new tradition to not only Just Poets, but Rochester, as well. The grand piano warmed the air in elegant holiday/classical note (thank you Willie Ellebee and Kitty Jospé).  And the table of treats at intermission, tastefully displayed, would have made Tiny Tim’s eyes sparkle.

Who could have asked for more when several Just Poet members came out of the audience of nearly 60 to read delightful and poignant “Letters to Santa” from then to now.

Toss in a raffle, $300 raised for the Open Door Mission, and the finale: the audience joining together singing Auld Lang Syne,  it was as warm and moving as Bob Cratchit’s crackling Christmas hearth.

From soup to nuts, well done.

Happy Holidays,

David Delaney

October 11th: Featured Poet Charles "SeaBe" Banks & Open Mic

Charles "SeaBe" Banks presenting....at Before Your Quiet Eyes bookstore

Charles "SeaBe" Banks presenting....at Before Your Quiet Eyes bookstore

Charles (aka “SeaBe”) Banks performance was also a JP book launch for his SeaBe: My First Poetry Book, Inner Child Press (2014). Bravo, Charles! Your poems not only capture the contemporary urban voice, but readers will hear your deep basso reading voice as they enjoy this wonderful chapbook.

He led off with a new poem “Life Crosses a Dangerous Road,” where “time heals, but it also kills.” Then he asked the audience to choose fromfour categories: Love, Fun, Social Ills, or Death. The audience chose Fun.

The response was an hilarious ode to fast food, “Burgers and Fries,” from his chapbook: “I’ll be Burger King’s Queen / just slip me … some onion rings.” And what will it take to make his girl “squeal / call me her Big Daddy”? (Hint: something from McDonald’s that rhymes with “squeal” and is said to be “happy”) After large applause, the audience again chose Fun.

Banks treated us to “Happy Belated Goose Day.” No, really, he assured us Goose Day is September 30th. Well, who knew? “I goose on Facebook. / Pokes are not polite.” He’s a fine comic, and the audience really gave it up for him. Then someone called for Social Ills.

He dressed us in “DeaD- Man’s Clothes,” lost among the hopeless homeless, stressing the “Heavy deaDness / No place to be living …” in a jazz poem worthy of comparison with some of Langston Hughes’. Banks named Hughes as one of his poetry mentors. Listen: “Livin’ in Dead Man sleeves / Strapped up belief / Lifeless Belt pulled tight …” Can you hear a bit of Hughes? The audience next chose Love.

Another new poem, “Rare Love,” manifested passion as “a hunger for another / rarely goes away.” Hear it and fall in love all over again. Next, the audience picked Social Ills.

“Way Ward BounD” is a kind of love poem to the homeless: “I live on the Edge the cut the corner the curb ….. where stePPs serve as … / Tables and Chairs,” and other images, especially hunger, that make homelessness too painful to ignore.  By now you've noticed Banks’ eccentric capitalization and punctuation, reminiscent of Russell Atkins, Bob McDonough’s Cleveland composer/poet friend Bob presented to our group last year.  Then the audience opted for Fun.

“PUMPkin BuTT pie Sweet Potatoe Bootie” gave a recipe that came with “a warning / readings / careful if you taste it it cums alive / it’s attracted to BiGG Ole BUTTS / and yours is the right size …..” It's a Thanksgiving poem from hell,  that could have come from Rice, Gorey, or Poe but is Banks’ own little demonic piece. It is also included in SeaBe, the chapbook.

SeaBe closed with a new Love poem. In “Poets,” who “travel light,” he credits Leonard Cohen and Billie Holliday for that concept, citing poets “with their watchful eyes, leaking hearts …”

Given Banks’ theatrical delivery and honest words, don’t hesitate to buy his book, to attend his readings, or to regard him as an emerging poet among contemporary greats. To a relatively new JP member, “Welcome Charles, and keep ‘em cOMinG!”

August featured poet Jennifer Maloney & open mic

Just Poets welcomed first-year member Jen Maloney as the featured reader for our second Wednesday of the month reading at Before Your Quiet Eyes, Ken Kelbaugh’s fine bookstore on Monroe Avenue.

Maloney said the poems she read follow a twenty-year hiatus from writing when poverty, addiction, and mental and physical abuse dominated her life. Emphasizing survival, Maloney credits the gift of friends and community for her return to poetry, as well as advice from Ralph Waldo Emerson, quoting Polonius: “To thine own self be true.”

From her first poem, “Fight Song,” we realized the ambiguity of flight and fight, from “I’m loose, light, and ready,” then “shit peppered with love … maybe she’s dying of love,” to “I watch him silently planning his next drunk.” The flight soon becomes a fight for survival in the poem “Women’s Meeting,” in which the poem’s voice rose “high, high, high … then dropped back down … like a shovelful of graveyard dirt.” In “The Floor,” a child’s voice tells us, “I can’t explain the taste of the floor,” as the older-wiser voice reflects, “Children believe … they try to make sense.” The adult voice of “Stars and Stripes” wants her flag freed from the insanity in Washington today: “We are too old for tears,” and at night we have the stars as window blinds “stripe the floor with moonlight.”

Next Maloney lightened the atmosphere with several pet poems. “Sammy,” a dog, “stretches one leg back, arabesque,” as if he were a ballet dancer, and provides comfort: “Sammy has faith in us, faith in himself.” The man who hates his woman’s cats, “The Man Who Loved Cats Dancing,” wields the power of the tuna can while calling them filthy names and screaming at them to “use the scratching post!” Indeed, “they listen to him.” And for every pet-lover, “Thou Good and Faithful” dog who died thirty-plus years ago is remembered for “the white, muddy feathers of his underbelly.” He is “warm, wet and stinking … is there anything more than this?”

Maloney closed with four powerful pieces. “Miss September” finds a California sugar-daddy in “the place where honeypot meets honey trap.” A typical take on an air-headed beauty? No, Miss September “isn’t stupid … Miss October isn’t 18.” In “How Things End,” the poem begins at home where “the lights went off.” A couple living in their car eats “the last of the bananas,” thinking “we could drive home, but there’s nothing there. … At least the car has blankets.” In “Of Miracles,” Tatiana is a short young black woman mistaken by police for a tall black male suspect. She is beaten by the Bakersfield PD and bitten by their dog. She “made the mistake of thinking she was an American citizen.” Maloney’s observation: “The real crime is not driving while Black … but breathing while Black.” Like Maloney, Tatiana is a survivor.

Closing out, “The Poet’s Lament” poked fun at all of us when we take ourselves too seriously: “Do you know who was better, Bukowski or Ginsberg?” Maloney’s advice is learn to “shut the hell up … simply let someone else speak. … After all, we are just poets.”

Or was it Just Poets?! The room was rapt and packed. A dozen readers offered their work at the open mic. The Coffee Connection, a non-profit supporting women in recovery, provided regular, decaf, and decadent cookies. Thanks again to Ken for providing the space in which such magic happens.

Review by Maril Nowak

Open Mic

Genesee Reading Series: Colleen Powderly & Kristen Gentry

Two women: one an author of short stories, one a poet; years separating their perspective on life; an interesting and enlightening evening at Writers & Books—Genesee Reading Series last night (August 8th).

Poet Colleen Powderly came with that podium ease that so entices the audience to engage, laugh and make that “hmmm”sound when a line hits its target (poets do that). It was a pleasure to travel through her love affairs, her ekphrastic poems based on a Vincent Van Gogh day calendar, and her strong “Ten Penny (nail)” poem about returning to Ireland with her aging father. Powderly’s poems are clear, eagle eyed, honest, and tell a story. They also work because there is craft in her work. But it is her ability to see “new”: in relationships; “My Lovers’ Hips”; see the daylight; “I watched light grow into the trees outside…” and on Van Gogh’s paintings of women working in the field; “He began to ‘see’ while painting them...” ; this is where one finds the word “profound.” 

Short story writer, Kristen Gentry, associate English professor at SUNY Geneseo, read “Mama Said” her lead piece in her upcoming collection of linked stories. “Mama Said” is a look inside the strain of daughters and mothers tied to addiction. Gentry read with animation and insight about that egg-shell walk around parental addiction; lines like “touching her arm to see if she is alive,” and the daughter’s feelings “of wishing she could run her mother over with the car, not to die, but to let her know how mad she was…” set that fear and anger in good passage.  Her comeback- overture line Gentry brought throughout the story was “you can’t fix her.”  But Gentry’s protagonist and story find a fixing strength and a worthy conclusion.    

A good reading last night.

Review by David Delaney

July Open Mic: Le Mot Juste 2017 Edition

On the way out of the Before Your Quiet Eyes bookstore that held JP’s (Just Poets) “Open Mic Night,” last night (7/12/2017), a first-time attendee (Mike) turned and said,” I am impressed; I just heard a lot of good poetry….” Normally JP hosts a featured reader each month, but last night the poems (most of them) came from JP’s annual publication Le Mot Juste (the right word).

Kitty Jospé, this year’s LMJ editor, led the read around by many of the JP members in attendance. The annual publication contains the work of more than 60 poets, all ages, all thoughts – all good. It makes one think about the importance of poetry, and also makes one stop to thank the founders who started the Just Poets group: Donna Marbach, Claudia Stanek, Lorrie Divers and Harold Dill. There was an easy and solid sense of unity last night because these and other poets, who more than a decade ago, took the time and effort to put this idea into reality. The result has been a growing and welcoming poetry group that now reaches near 90 in members and reaches into the Greater Rochester community bringing the power of words where it does and will do its magic. 

After the LMJ read around, the Open Mic brought some new work to the audience: Maril Nowak read her poem, “The Success of Age”; Gene Stelzig read his poem, “All Our Ships Have Sailed”; David Purdy read a written-that-morning piece on overlooking the Erie Canal, and a poem generated from his and poet Monica Beck’s June trip to Ireland entitled “The Green That Grows Upon the Orange.” Monica read a WB Yeats classic “When You Are Old.” Jere Fletcher read his poem, “Morning Glory”; Jen Hu read an as-of- last- night untitled poem; Charles Banks read his poem, “The Skeptic”, and Kitty Jospé’ read her poem, “Hamlet’s Reply to Recipes Based on Jell-O.” Several attendees read additional LMJ poems for poets who did not attend. 

Next Month’s Open Mic (August 9) features Jennifer Maloney.

Review by David Delaney

Just Poets Annual Picnic & Le Mot Juste 2017

On Saturday, June 3rd, Just Poets held its annual picnic. This event always gives JP members a chance to catch up with each other as well as celebrate the publication of our yearly anthology Le Mot Juste

The 13th edition of Le Mot Juste is dedicated to our good friends, Michael & Carolyn Czarnecki of FootHills Publishing. Celebrating 30 years of publishing, Michael & Carolyn have hand-made every LMJ edition.

The 13th edition of Le Mot Juste is dedicated to our good friends, Michael & Carolyn Czarnecki of FootHills Publishing. Celebrating 30 years of publishing, Michael & Carolyn have hand-made every LMJ edition.

This year's editor, Kitty Jospe, shared a write-up of our big day:

A hearty thank you to Karla Linn Merrifield who hosted the Just Poets annual picnic for the third year in a row.  In addition to a feast of delicious foods, we had a visual feast of poetry, starting with a couch covered by books generously donated by Bill Heyen. As he modestly said, it’s because his publishers are going out of business.  Karla suggested that people wanting to match his generosity make a $5 donation to Just Poets.  I believe she meant in particular for the hardcover copy of Hiroshima Suite with the stunning cover illustration by DeLoss McGraw, The Fish, but certainly, there were so many other books to choose from.

Other poets brought works as well--the top drawer of a chest was open to disclose titles.  Facing the couch was a delightful photo display Bart White put up of members and their activities.

After we ate, Bart gave a lovely overview of all the activities of Just Poets and all the people who worked behind the scenes to create wonderful programs and community connections.  He read a poem by Maril Nowak as an example of the fine work produced in JP meetings.                      

Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia
Mid-afternoon waves rising to collapse
waves jazzing the pebbled shore
waves in a shimmy of sunlight
waves in a rupture of the bag
of diamonds on the pier.

It’s like this:
When you watch the water dance
you have to dance along.
When you watch the water toss
its treasure you have to grab for it.
When you watch the water’s weave
you will wear that new coat home.

After Bart's brief but pointed year-in-review, we had a fantastic read-around where everyone shared a poem of their own. Some read from this year's Le Mot Juste, others recited new material or old favorites.

It was a great day, a beautiful display of exactly what this group has to offer. As Karla, our gracious host, remarked at the conclusion of the day: "Damn, we're good." I could not possibly agree more.

Genesee Reading Series, April 11th

The impression one takes away from Tuesday night’s Writers & Books Genesee Reading Series was a sense of stillness. Neither Andrea Weinstein nor Jennifer Grotz, the two featured poets, brought the rumble of dump trucks unloading personal issues. More measured, metered and self-reflective, each, in turn, offered a glimpse of themselves through their work.

Weinstein offered the sentiment “silence gives the self a chance to replenish.” Her poem, “I Hear” bespoke that inner search: “…rhythms in blessed silence….” Using listing in several pieces, she asked in her poem, “One Good Man” to:  “…stand up… to yell loud and long…” in her humbled lament against man’s inhumanity to man. She touched upon elegies, one in particular “Archaeology of Life” about what others might find in the treasures left “post  Weinstein,” listing a number of things accumulated including “neon strapped heals…”  and summed it up eloquently in here poem’s closing line “When I am not here what will be gleamed for these artifacts? I think not much.” Poetically, not true.

Jennifer Grotz read several poems from her books, but true to the night’s unofficial theme of quietude, her work was delivered in measured tone. Whether observations in her self-portrait, “The Window” with lines like “Eyes wide like an owl’s…anger hides in the jaw…” the window image was imaginative and superb.  Her reflections continued with poems that spoke of her writing times generated while in a French monastery. Grotz’s comment, “sight leads to insight” rang true throughout. Whether observing a Krakow nun riding across from her on public transportation or her lines from, “The Mountain” observed from the monastery: “No matter how long I looked I could not see it all… how to look at something too big to fit the frame…” or her delicate poem brushing fear, “Scorpion,” or concluding her reading with “Poppies” and the natural wonder around, which she summated with “Love is letting the world be half tamed,” Grotz’s poems like Weinstein’s brought a stillness to the evening that was refreshing.

The Genesee Reading Series is now in its 34th year at Writers & Books, and is held every month on the second Tuesday. 

Review by David J. Delaney